Dark Tales

Nov 8 2016 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Jumpy

Banshee Labyrinth: Mon 7 – Thurs 10 Nov 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Haunting raw material and a fairly straightforward telling from Theatre Paradok give a good account of this pair of classic Victorian ghost stories, at the Banshee Labyrinth until Thursday.

Director Erica Belton has some strong ideas, but is rather undone by the confines of the tight little space in the Labyrinth cellar. Her casts are also somewhat uneven in their delivery – at times overwrought when a frosty stillness would work best, at others not investing enough gravitas in their delivery.

Edward Meltzer. Photo Erica Belton

Edward Meltzer. Photo Erica Belton

This opens well enough, though, with Edward Meltzer excellent in the title role of Charles Dickens’ The Signalman. His sense of fraught danger is in marked contrast to the smooth superciliousness of Matthew Sedman as the Gentleman, who visits him in his signal box one evening.

Belton skilfully masks where the real jeopardy lies in the story, ensuring that the reveal is a proper twist in the tale, giving that which has gone before a vicious poignancy. You feel that had the jeopardy happened to fall out the other way, then the viciousness would have been preserved.

Meltzer delivers his lines with real clarity – and an ability to hold his audience in an almost supernatural glare. However Sedman needs to pay more attention to his delivery, particularly when he has the storytelling role in the narrative, when he has a tendency to blurt it all out without due emphasis.

There are some nice tricks to Caitlin Allen’s set design, with the most effective being those that use suggestion and work with the lighting. Projections of trains are relevant, but not quite appropriate in a way that they might be. And while the end is chilling, there could be a lot more to it all.


The second piece, The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell, starts out very well indeed. Kirsten Millar has a great sense of pace as the Old Nurse, looking back on her childhood, taken away from school to act as nursemaid to the local gentry. When both her master and mistress die, she and her young charge are sent to live in remote Furnival Hall, ruled over by a mysterious Great Aunt.

The puppet for the Aged Aunt with Kirsten Millar. Photo Erica Belton

The puppet for the Aged Aunt with Kirsten Millar. Photo Erica Belton

Jane Prinsley brings an equal understanding of the needs of the storytelling, as the Nursemaid’s younger self. Sadly, both are undone by surrounding performances that too often dissipate the tension that they build up.

It’s a reasonable solution to portray the aged aunt and her wrinkled companion as mask puppets, but those operating them need to do more be merely blank. While the crucial reveal by one of the fellow servants of the big house is neither believable as hysteria, nor does it provide any growing sense of panic or fear.

All told, this is an evening of moderate scares and interesting theatrical solutions. However, the company would get more unsettling results if it applied the basic principals of storytelling with more rigour, rather than being distracted by nice ideas of delivery.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes (including one interval)
The Banshee Labyrinth, 29 – 35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG
Monday 7 – Thursday 10 November 2016
Daily: 7.30pm
Details and tickets from: http://paradok.co.uk/current-production/

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